Anger is a normal human emotion and can be important to alert you to a threat or boundary violation, and to help you deal with situations. However, if anger is expressed in harmful ways, or tips over into aggression and violence, then it can cause problems in your relationships at home and at work.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy – Aristotle.
Anger can range from mild frustration to rage. The emotion is associated with changes in the body including a racing heart, an increase in blood pressure, and the release of stress hormones. You may get hot and sweaty, tense, and feel shaky. Some people can act in angry ways such as yelling, throwing things, and silence. Anger can spill over to violence. It can also be used as an excuse to abuse others.
How do you know when anger is a problem for you?
Anger is a problem if it leads to difficulties with your relationships, your work, the law, or your health. Some indications that anger may be a problem include:
- Anger includes verbal, emotional, physical abuse
- Anger is leading to problems with your relationships
- People around you are worried or fearful about your anger
- The anger lingers for a long time
- You feel angry a lot of the time
- You rely on alcohol or substances to manage your emotions
How to manage anger
For many years, people were encouraged to express their anger as a way of managing it. Treatment might involve people being encouraged to channel their anger into punching a pillow or yelling at the top of their voice. This type of treatment is called catharsis. According to some psychological studies, the effectiveness of aggressive catharsis may be a myth.
In his article titled “You Can’t Punch Your Way Out of Anger” Dr. Art Markman outlines that cathartic behaviours may actually increase aggression. A well known 1999 study by Dr. Brad Bushman, an expert on aggression at the Ohio State University, found that people who were encouraged to engage in cathartic behaviours (by hitting a punching bag) were found later to be more aggressive. Dr. Bushman cautions that there is no scientific evidence to support catharsis as a method of managing anger.
Five Techniques to Manage Anger
Take Time Out. One study by Dr. Bushman in 2002 found that doing nothing at all for two minutes was actually effective in reducing anger. Compare this to a group of people who were told to punch a sand bag for as long as they wanted while thinking about a person they were angry with. People in this group reported an increase in anger towards that person!
Be Mindful. Take a moment to ask yourself what you are really angry about. Anger is often a response to a boundary violation or feeling threatened. Is this why you are angry? If so, what exactly is the threat? Are you responding to the present, or to a thought you are having about what the situation may mean (“that’s it the relationship is over”; “my boss will fire me for sure”). Remind yourself to be focused and attend to the present, not to fantasy thoughts about what it might mean.
Check for Overgeneralizing. Are you using words like should, always, never? – “he should know how I’m feeling”; “she always forgets the things I’m interested in”; “he never puts his cup in the washer”. Anger is often black-and-white, all-or-nothing, and it can make us inflexible in our views. When angry, your mind will search for information and evidence that confirms your views. This can make you even angrier. Take a moment to reflect on disconfirming evidence. What goes against your views? Remind yourself of times that go against your views.
Explore it. One study by Graham and colleagues in 2008 found that expressing anger constructively through writing had a beneficial effect on mental health. This technique is similar to journaling with one important difference – it is structured. To explore anger:
- describe your anger feelings clearly,
- specify what you were angry about,
- explain your angry reaction, don’t just vent, and
- state what you wish to be done to help you feel less angry. Be specific.
This technique allows you to express anger in a thoughtful and constructive way that can be helpful in creating a sense of control over your emotional life.
Focus on Your Breath. Your stress response is switched on when you are angry. You can calm it down by sitting comfortably, and focusing on your breath. Begin to take slow, deep breaths. You could also try some mindfulness techniques – see our blog on the importance of mindfulness.
Get Help. You might consider seeking help if anger is a problem for you or the people in your life. There are some excellent anger management groups available. Alternatively, Mens Line offers online counselling or you can call us to see how we can help you.
At the moment you become angry, you tend to believe that your misery has been created by another person. You blame him or her for all your suffering. But by looking deeply, you may realize that the seed of anger in you is the main cause of your suffering. Many other people, confronted with the same situation, would not get angry like you. They hear the same words, they see the same situation, and yet they are able to stay calm and not be carried away. Why do you get angry so easily? You may get angry very easily because your seed of anger is too strong. And because you have not practiced the methods for taking good care of your anger, the seed of anger has been watered too often in the past – Thich Nhat Hanh